BEIJING — An excommunicated bishop took part in an ordination ceremony in southwest China on Wednesday, an event likely to worsen relations between the Chinese state-controlled Catholic church and the Vatican, which had warned against his participation.
Wednesday's ordination of Peter Luo Xuegang as coadjutor bishop of Yibin diocese had the blessing of the Vatican, a recent point of agreement in its decades-long rift with China's church. But the appearance and participation of the excommunicated bishop, Paul Lei Shiyin, in the ceremony fueled fresh tensions.
Lei was ordained in the nearby diocese of Leshan in June against Pope Benedict XVI's wishes – one of three recent cases in which China unilaterally ordained bishops. The Vatican insists that only the pope has the right to choose bishops, while China sees this as interference in its internal affairs.
The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Wednesday evening that Lei's participation "causes disapproval and consternation," especially since "it appears he participated as a consecrating bishop and co-celebrated the Eucharist."
A man from the administrative office of Leshan's branch of the Catholic Patriotic Association, which runs China's churches, said Lei had participated in religious rituals.
"Bishop Lei Shiyin went to Yibin and attended Bishop Luo Xuegang's ordination ceremony and he is back in Leshan today," said the man, surnamed Yang. "He also participated in the religious rituals there."
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that China was "sincere" about improving relations with the Vatican and that recent ordinations "promote the healthy development of Chinese Catholicism."
Lombardi expressed appreciation that Luo had enjoyed the pope's approval, following three recent ordinations in defiance of the Vatican. "Having a new prelate who is in communion with the pope and with all the Catholic bishops of the world is certainly positive," the Vatican spokesman said.
"Instead, the participation of the illegitimate bishop – who, as is known, is in the canonical condition of being an excommunicated person – doesn't go in the same direction and causes disapproval and consternation among the faithful," Lombardi said in a statement.
In China, worship is allowed only in state-backed churches, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to the pope.Lombardi noted that in "ordinary situations," there would be church consequences for the other bishops who participated in the ceremony despite Lei's presence. "In the present circumstances, it is probable that these (bishops) weren't able to impede him without grave repercussions" on themselves, he said.